Some kind of political farce is playing out in Maharashtra over the irrigation scam. First, deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar resigns, ostensibly to pave the way for a White Paper on irrigation, and then returns as if he is pure as driven snow. In September, Mr. Pawar took the high moral ground so as not to influence the White Paper on a department he once headed. A combative Opposition pressured the Chief Minister to investigate the State’s abysmal 0.1 per cent increase in irrigation cover since a decade. In any event, Mr. Pawar needn’t have worried; the White Paper that was eventually produced was a deliberate obfuscation as expected. There is no reference to corruption or misuse of funds and the project-wise expenditure only reveals what everyone already knows — that there has been a gross overspend of public money. The reasons cited are land acquisition, relief and rehabilitation, forest clearances and cost of project design. There is no whiff of the three or more inquiry reports into irrigation scams in the State and the shoddy construction, cost escalations and arbitrary decision-making or reference to the whistleblower Vijay Pandhre’s allegations of corruption in the irrigation sector.
Resignations have often been used as a form of pressure by political parties and the Nationalist Congress Party this year has indulged in this tactic both at the Centre and the State. The post of deputy chief minister was kept vacant for Mr. Pawar’s re-entry after the White Paper was released. The NCP, it almost seemed, was playing out a charade since it was clear there would be nothing to indict anyone leave alone Ajit Pawar in the Paper. When Ajit resigned in a huff in September, or a miscalculation as some say, NCP ministers resigned to support him. They were ordered to resume work by party president Sharad Pawar who cracked the whip in no uncertain terms. If his nephew thought that party men would veer towards him in solidarity, it was momentary. After his resignation, Ajit Pawar blustered about it in a public meeting and looked sheepish a day later. The fact that Pawar senior could still extract unstinted loyalty and take swift decisions was made clear to his nephew. In the interim, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and Pawar senior have been meeting often to discuss topics of mutual interest. The Congress maintains the White Paper was not an inquisition in any case. While there are two court cases on irrigation scams with a plea for special investigation teams, muffled rumours of a quid pro quo are doing the rounds. Perhaps Mr. Chavan has finally learnt the art of being in a coalition and also the art of keeping his enemies closer than friends.